Obituary: Richard Sylvan

RICHARD SYLVAN (formerly ROUTLEY), Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy, Research School of Social Sciences, ANU, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in Bali, Indonesia on Sunday June 16 1996. He was 60 years old. His death is a sad loss to the academic community and to his many friends around the world. His remains are buried at his property, Nameless, outside of Gerringong at the edge of one of the forests he cherished, and overlooking the sea.

While Richard is well known for his pioneering work in logic (especially relevant and paraconsistent logic), metaphysics, and semantics, he will be better known to members of the environmental ethics community for his extensive writings on environmental philosophy.

Although he wrote prolifically, much of his work is not readily accessible. However, a book prepared with David Bennett, The Greening of Ethics was published in 1994 (Cambridge, England: White Horse Press ; Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press).

His earlier writings were published under his former name "Richard Routley", including his seminal 1973 paper 'Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?' (Proceedings of the XVth World Congress of Philosophy 1: 205-210.)

A number of his earlier papers were written in partnership with Val Routley (now Val Plumwood, author of, inter alia, Feminism and The Mastery of Nature). Joint papers and monographs include:

Richard was responsible, individually and in collaboration, for a significant amount of the development of environmental philosophy in Australasia. He was also responsible for provoking a fair amount of the remainder. This was done in a characteristically robust "bare knuckles" style. An example of his provocative style - and courageous choice of topics - is his 1982 paper 'In Defence of Cannibalism'. (Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy No. 2. Canberra: Australian National University.)

The concerns of environmental philosophy in Australasia tend to be articulated in robustly secular discourse, avoiding religious and mystical modes of expression that are often associated with environmental philosophy in the north. Richard was very severe (and entertaining!) about that sort of thing. (That is not to say that we are entirely free of foggy thinking and muddle down under, nor that everyone in the north has succumbed to its blandishments.)

Richard's research program reached a lot further than the ambit of environmental philosophy as conceived by the majority of writers in this area. It was systematically linked with his (and others') work in metaphysics, semantics, logic, and value theory. He also connected it with work outside mainstream Australasian and Anglo-American philosophical inquiry as well as with work in other disciplines: Taoism, Buddhism, nihilism, cosmology, demography, politics and economics - and more. There are problems trying to survey the whole of this program, some of which are technical, and some of which arise from his idiosyncrasies in presentation and publishing.

Richard's extensive, eclectic, detailed and ambitious program in environmental philosophy might be called: "life, the universe, everything and much more besides." It's a fascinating project which deserves to be better known. Although there are difficulties with his articulation of the principles of so-called "deep green" theory, the thoughts of most people who have wrestled with problems in this area owe an enormous debt to Richard for the illumination and clarification which he helped to provide.

For some tough (though sometimes entertaining) criticisms of deep ecology and (inter alia) Sessions, Devall, Naess, (Warwick) Fox, I recommend (a selection of) Sylvan's 'Green Series' Discussion Papers in Environmental Philosophy, published by the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University.

Of interest are:

Copies of 'Green Series' Discussion Papers used to be available from the RSSS, ANU. Email Frances Redrup: fjr305@coombs.anu.edu.au (Some free, some at a fairly nominal cost.)

William Grey


Department of Philosophy Tel: (07) 336 52099 w (int: + 61 7 336 52099) University of Queensland Fax: (07) 336 51968 (int: + 61 7 336 51968) Brisbane 4072 email: wgrey@lingua.cltr.uq.edu.au

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CEP - June 25, 1996